Dee Byrne launches her first solo album ‘Live At Cafe Oto’, recorded on 11th June, performing and sharing the stage as support for Washington D.C. duo Model Home.
The result of her exciting new work is a diverse range of textures, moods, wild scramblings, agitated stutterings, drones, squeaks, clicks and unabashed melody.
Dee Byrne is an international saxophonist, composer and improviser based in London with an interest in pushing the boundaries of jazz. She regularly collaborates with artists from the UK and Europe who occupy the area of contemporary jazz, avant-garde and free improvisation. Dee explores and expands her work and interests in the meeting of structured, composed material with free improvisation. Loving freely improvised music as well as contemporary jazz, for Dee the magic happens in the world in between, where a composition is given room to breathe and has the potential to go in unexpected directions.
We caught up with Dee Byrne to talk about her solo career, first solo album, and any other future plans!
Hi Dee, so nice catching up with you! Congrats in all you’re doing, especially the announcement of your first solo album – it’s great to see you being so active on the music stage. For those who don’t yet know of your work, how would you present yourself in a nutshell?
Hi, thanks for having me! I play alto sax and electronics in a variety of settings from solo to large ensembles with artists from around the UK and Europe.
You’re a high achieving saxophonist, composer, and improviser; when did you first start composing and how has improvisation further influenced your composition and performing work?
I started composing when I was doing a masters at Trinity (2008-11) but seriously got into it a few years after I left. Improvising is in-the-moment composition. The main thing I’ve found is it’s important to get into the right space where ideas can flow. This applies to both improvising and composing. I suppose through improvising I see how closely linked that practice is to the more formal act of sitting down and writing something out.
Some people might see jazz as either a finely honed set of structures that one needs to follow, and others see it as a process of exploration. One of your main interests is to ‘push the boundaries of jazz’. Have you ever felt confined in jazz, and if so, how did you explore and open through any boundaries?
I like the boundaries that any discipline has. It’s something to respect, but also push up against. Improvising over the strict form of a jazz standard has always been fascinating to me, but it’s not enough for me. It made me want to switch things up by writing through- composed pieces, deconstructing elements of time and tonality and leaving the page completely to embark on group improvisations. I like to use structure as a jumping off point for exploration, but I do also love returning to structure.
Where did your first journey into free improvised music start and how does this relationship grow and develop?
I really got into it when I started LUME with Cath Roberts in 2013 (nearly 10 years ago!) We wanted to create a platform for original and improvised music. The spirit was all about experimentation. Through putting on our weekly gigs, I was exposed to free improvisation; both listening to it and doing it. It opened up my ears to a whole new world of creative possibilities.
Improvisation is such a big part of your musicianship. What does improvisation on its own mean to you?
It’s about authentic expression.
Your performing and creating in musical duos and groups has resulted in a host of wonderful musical output and communications. Does stepping out as a soloist feel like unchartered territory for you, what led to your musical exploration in this area, and what have you learnt since then?
Playing solo is exposing, for sure. It’s stepping into the unknown. With no one else to interact with you have to create your own inspiration. My first solo gig came about because my duo partner couldn’t make a gig, so I decided to go ahead and try out a solo set. That was a disaster, I have to say, but as the years have gone by, I have kept going back to it. During lockdown I had the opportunity to experiment with videoing short solo improvisations using my effects pedals. This helped me to accelerate my development in this specific area.
It’s the feeling of both jumping off a cliff and coming home that keeps drawing me back to solo performance.
Do tell us about your newly released debut solo album – what was it like creating it and could you describe your thoughts behind this project?
I had been doing a run of solo gigs around London in the run up, and I thought it would be really nice to get a document of where my process was up to that point, in the amazing setting of Café Oto.
Presenting an uninterrupted 27 minutes of playing, your album is unique compared to contemporary habits in terms of ‘tune’ lengths often related to radio play. What was your inspiration in this expansive musical concept?
I wanted to capture the whole set in its entirety because it only really makes sense to listen to the whole thing – although I did make a shorter radio edit for practical purposes!
Another thing exploratory in your new work is working with electronics and effects.. What led you to work in this medium and how do you feel it informed your musical creativity?
I have been using effects pedals ever since I started playing in a long running duo I’m in called Deemer. It’s great fun experimenting with different sounds and textures, it’s opened up many possibilities and kept things fresh.
You mention ‘sonic explorations’ help to express ‘in the moment’, therefore what kind of expressions are behind your sonic explorations, is there a reflection to life environments and the world around us in any way, or is it purely exploring sound and silence?
I am trying to cut through the noise of the mind. I think especially in a solo setting, it’s essential to bypass the surface interference of everyday thoughts and concerns. The sheer risk of performing in front of an audience alone allows a depth of expression to be reached. It’s all or nothing, sink or swim, I guess. The music I want to play is coming from beyond any conceptual frameworks and coming from a place of stillness. It’s a true communication with the audience. That’s what I’m reaching for anyway.
What do you feel was the most challenging when working on ‘Live At Cafe Oto’?
Just actually playing the solo set was challenging! Playing at such a prestigious venue, I felt pressure to deliver a high-quality performance. But also, I had to completely ignore this thought as it would only get in the way of the performance.
Do you have any plans for later this year or 2023 for your new solo work, or any expanded projects that our audience can check out what’s happening for you going forwards?
I’ll continue with my solo work, but my next big project will be releasing my new sextet album on Whirlwind Recordings in March 2023.
Finally, where can people listen to your new solo album ‘Live At Cafe Oto’?
On bandcamp: https://deebyrne.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-cafe-oto